Linda Scott is DP World Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Linda is best known for her creation of the concept of the Double X Economy – a perspective which describes the global economy of women in both the developed and developing world, and the roles of women not only as consumers, but as investors, donors and workers. She writes a blog called The Double X Economy, as well as blogging for Forbes and Bloomberg Businessweek on gender issues.
Linda spoke to TC about her research on women and the workplace.
You've had an interesting career trajectory from advertising research to a Chair in Entrepreneurship. Your work very much seems to focus on women in entrepreneurship. Is there a story behind it?
Sure. In my case I study women entrepreneurs. I came to be interested in the topic of women when I was studying advertising. Women of course, consume most goods and are the audience for most advertisments. And over the last twenty years there has been a controversy about the effect of advertising on women, particularly in the beauty industry. I wasn't intending to study it but I kept getting calls from the press about it.
I started studying that more and ended up writing a book about the history of the women's movement in America in conjunction with the rise of the modern economy. I found that there had been quite a parallel in terms of women's economic empowerment and women's willingness to rise up politically and form a movement. And some of the companies that enabled women to do that were companies like Avon. So when I came to Oxford I wanted to study specifically Avon to see if it was having a similar effect in developing countries today. I got permission from Avon and funding from the British government to study Avon in South Africa.
Avon is a network of independent entrepreneurs. Right about that time it became very popular with governments in international development, to look into whether or not helping women become entrepreneurs would help alleviate poverty. So that's how it took off.
Your concept of the Double X Economy is a breakthrough one. Tell us about it.
As I began to study women around the world in entrepreneurship and also began studying girls' education especially in extremely poor rural areas, I felt that there were things that women faced that were really quite different from what men faced in terms of their ability to be economically viable as individuals or even as members of a family. The barriers that they face are fairly consistent around the world; they actually don't vary much by culture. Even in countries where some of those barriers have been taken away by law, they nevertheless are still there by custom. So it seems to me that that the whole world of women seem to have a similar economic paradigm under which they work. And it's not only with barriers, but it also meant that the ethics about economics were different from men and the solutions to problems were different from men. So I began to feel it was worthwhile looking at them as an economy of their own.
In the last seven to ten years, women's empowerment seems to have become a hot topic. Clearly a lot of work has been going on and the research that people like yourself have been doing is having an impact on corporate environment, on governments - it seems to be at the top leadership level that this drive is coming from. Is there a reason for this?
I would say this is a fairly new phenomenon and the precipitating factor was the availability of data nationally, on a global level. Data sets about women were initially put together by the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) and were eventually augmented by the World Economic Forum and the World Bank. It's basically data that gets collected from governments and then is disaggregated and analysed by gender. And nobody had ever done that before the UNDP did it - I think it was 1996. It took about 10 years before that data could really be analysed, understood and people paid attention to it and to the coherent story it was telling. One of the stories that it told was that women were vastly underutilized as an economic force. Also their exclusion has really negative effects around a wide variety of outcomes.
And so it became at the highest policy level a reallyimportant agenda and the major corporates are into it for a variety of reasons. It does tend to be from the top; it supported by the grassroots but it's definitely also coming from the top.